Memorable Matchups of 2012 – Part 3
Before beginning part 3 of my year-in-review opus I’d like to acknowledge how truly great a year we’ve had this year in regards to movies. For as many films and performances that will be nominated for awards, there will be just as many that have a right to feel snubbed. There were so many quality indie, genre, and franchise films that even the stingiest of movie watchers could easily find one movie they really enjoyed. This year was so great that they didn’t even abide by the normal January-February as dumping grounds mentality, releasing movies like Haywire, The Grey, Chronicle, and Wanderlust, which are all vastly superior to the normal dreck that’s usually released at the beginning of the year. Even some of the more disappointing movies of the year were at least interesting to discuss, like Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises.
Some Romances Are Stronger Than the Bonds of Time
Safety Not Guaranteed received quite a bit of love as the indie darling of the year. So much so that I assumed it would end up being this year’s annual indie movie that makes my top 5. Turns out, I didn’t like it nearly as much as everyone else. A lot of that had to do with my expectations being way too high, but the movie is far from flawless. As much as I like Mark Duplass his character is essentially a male version of a manic pixie dream girl and serves the purpose of being an eccentric person whose love saves the main character, Aubrey Plaza, despite being completely unrealistic to real life relationships. Jake Johnson has his own clichés to fight against as the guy who is a jerk but is funny enough where the audience doesn’t hate him. Then they find out his jerkiness is based around his unhappiness so they start to love him and he goes through a predictable character arc. Despite my complaints I still think the movie is good, just not as good as every other person seems to think.
Looper was writer/director Rian Johnston’s third feature film which starred Hollywood’s newest big man on campus Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Bruce Willis, or was Bruce Willis an old Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Time travel being used as a way for mobsters to have people killed with no evidence left behind? Awesomely brilliant idea, especially by having Jeff Daniels as the guy who traveled back in time to run it. Having numerous people have slight telekinetic powers? A little jarring and way more unbelievable than the idea of time travel for some reason. There was also a romantic sub-plot with Emily Blunt which felt a little forced, but since JGL and Blunt are so good, they made it work. That’s how the movie feels as a whole, though. It definitely has its problems and plot holes, but overall it’s so original and well-made/acted that it’s easy to forgive them.
And the Winner Is: Looper – but speaking of time travel let’s go back in time a few decades ourselves.
The 70s vs. the 80s
Dark Shadows continued the recently unfortunate collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Whatever magic the two had with Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood appears to be completely dried out as the only recent collaboration I would even think about recommending would be 2007’s Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and even that would be with reservations. The trailers made this look funny by including every single funny moment within them. Making this movie entertaining for a solid 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The fact that the film is almost 2 hours feels like borderline torture as it’s quite possibly the dullest film of 2012.
If you didn’t hate the music of the 80’s before seeing Rock of Ages, you certainly will after you hear the majority of them sang in as “High-School Musical” a way as possible. I’ll give Tom Cruise credit because you can tell he really tried, but he couldn’t overcome the fact that the leads, Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough, could not have been any more unconvincing as young rock n’ rolling lovebirds. T.J. Miller’s 30 seconds of screen time is the lone highlight in this annoying flick.
And the Winner Is: One bored me, and one angered me. I guess I’ll go with Dark Shadows even though I never want to see either of them again.
A Great Year for Hand Jobs
The Master is easily the most on the fence I’ve been about a movie all year. On one hand, director Paul Thomas Anderson made it look beautiful and it features a scene with the best bit of acting I’ve seen in years, everyone who has seen the movies knows exactly which scene I am talking about. On the other hand, I can’t say I enjoyed the movie as a whole. I felt very cold to the experience, feeling like I should have loved it or I was missing something since all I had heard leading up to it was how amazing it was. I need to watch it again, which luckily won’t be too painful considering Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams‘s acting alone makes it a worthwhile experience.
I felt similarly about Hyde Park on Hudson. Like I should have liked it way more than I did, except this had less to do with what everyone else was saying about it than the fact that my favorite actor Bill Murray was in it and I hate not liking his movies. Also it’s not “bad” but just very bizarre. You think it’s supposed to be about the FDR inviting the King of England to America so they can discuss the U.S.’s potential involvement, and while that’s there, it definitively plays second fiddle to Laura Linney’s affair with the president. Plus, the other affairs he had, and how he basically took advantage of women but they came to terms with it relatively quickly because he had some charisma.
And the Winner Is: The Master – because even if I liked them about the same, it’s easy to tell which film is of higher quality. Sorry, Mr. Murray…
I’ll Make it Up To You Bill I Promise!
Moonrise Kingdom is maybe Wes Anderson’s most popular directorial effort to date. Even the most rabid complainers of his quirky, stylized vision seemed to enjoy this coming-of-age romance where the adults act like children and the children act like adults. It was fun to see such a star-studded ensemble cast – Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and yes, Bill Murray – all play second fiddle to the two unknown child leads, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. It’s as beautiful as his other films, shares the same dark humor, and I’m always glad when one of my favorite directors breaks through with a really popular hit.
The Sessions is a movie that came and went with little acknowledgment from the movie going public despite critical acclaim and two of the best performances of the year. John Hawkes plays a man in an iron lung who at the ripe age of 36 decides he wants to lose his virginity. Not really having much experience or the confidence to pick up women he hires a sex surrogate, Helen Hunt in a very courageous role, to help him achieve his goal. It’s more humorous than you’d expect and definitely deserves to be seen by more people. Hawkes will probably get snubbed by the Academy considering the Lead Actor category is so strong, but I fully expect Hunt to get a nomination for Supporting Actress.
And the Winner Is: Moonrise Kingdom – but it was closer than many would expect.
The Expendables 2 was one of those rare movies that the majority of people seemed to have no problem with being terrible. Clichéd story-line? Check. Horrible dialogue that included Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger saying each others famous one liners from other movies? Check. Every old actor having had so much work done that they look like their sculptures from the Madam Tussaud’s wax museum? Check. I am as big of a fan as the old action movies from the 80s and 90s as anyone else, but I still can’t forgive this movie’s poor quality. Some people will love it simply for being so ridiculously stupid and self-referential, and some people will be bored throughout the entire thing.
The Avengers was the culmination of years of build-up with numerous solo movies from the individual members of Marvel’s super group. Even though none of these build-up movies were great, except Iron Man, the hype and expectations for The Avengers were enormous and director Joss Whedon mostly delivered. They used Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, as a villain because he was already introduced in Thor and made sense power wise to the team to defeat him. Despite some problems with pacing, mostly in the beginning while getting the team together, it was easy to overlook the slowness of those scenes by having the heavy lifting done by the best actors: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, and the aforementioned Tom Hiddleston. Overall I thought the movie was overrated, it was very good and very fun, but it wasn’t nearly the film a lot of people said it was. It was easier to forget those slow moments considering the end battle scene was done so well and that The Hulk was finally done correctly.
And the Winner Is: The Avengers – and while we are here let’s get the rest of these superheroes out of the way…
DC vs. Marvel
Christopher Nolan’s vision of Batman came to an end with the The Dark Knight Rises. The recipe for success was there: complete fan trust after The Dark Knight, the return of Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman, a jacked Tom Hardy as the villain, there were new additions in hot commodities Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and a trailer that showed a team that was essentially a substitute for the unlikable Pittsburgh Steelers get swallowed up by the Earth. I didn’t mention a bang up script in that recipe because that’s were this movie really faltered. After a very intense and awesome first scene we are given a plethora of dumb character decisions and motivations, time inconsistencies, and too many coincidences that were just to move the plot along. I won’t get specific because you’ve probably heard them all a million times and they are not exactly hard to find on the internet. Overall the movie wasn’t very good. At the end of the day, some people hated it, some people can acknowledge its flaws and still like it, and some refuse to believe it wasn’t a brilliant culmination of the greatest trilogy of all time.
The Amazing Spider-Man was one of those movies many people didn’t like before it even came out. A reboot to the Spider-Man franchise this soon was unwanted and openly mocked. Truth is, Sony had to make a new movie or they would lose the rights to the franchise to Disney/Marvel and since it was a cash cow in the past they decided to reboot it earlier than most people wanted. As for the movie itself, it was fine. In ways it was better than parts of the original trilogy and other ways it was worse. Andrew Garfield was a better Spider-Man, but a worse Peter Parker. Emma Stone was an equal love interest and Rhys Ifans was a good villain, probably my second favorite after Doc Ock. It probably isn’t anyone’s favorite Spider-Man movie, unless they were born recently and missed out on the original trilogy, but it’s a solid foundation for a new version of the series.
And the Winner Is: The Amazing Spider-Man – because saying it’s better will annoy a lot of people.
Ang Lee’s Life of Pi was, if nothing else, the technical achievement of 2012. It’s some of the most realistic CGI I’ve ever seen and is completely immersive. It’s not just beautiful to look at though. Its story is deep, beautiful, and spiritual. It masterfully infuses faith into an entertaining movie without being heavy handed or off-putting to people that subscribe to no religion or faith. Suraj Sharma was magnificent as Pi and deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Lead Actor and Ang Lee deserves a nod for Best Director.
While I haven’t read either book, in terms of being “unfilmable” Cloud Atlas seemed like it had the bigger hill to climb of the two. From just watching the two films Life of Pi’s story was relatively straight forward compared to the sprawling interconnected Cloud Atlas. I’m not sure how well the film adapted the novel but it damn sure entertained me. It was also relatively easy to follow and straightforward considering the circumstances. The only time I became really confused was when Tom Hanks put on a weird accent that was hard to understand or started talking in future language. The only negative thing I really have to say about Cloud Atlas is that while it was trying to be moving to the audience, I was cold towards it. I was entertained, but never emotionally invested.
And the Winner Is: Life of Pi – although they both vastly exceeded my expectations.
Paul Dano Plays a Convincing Author
From trailers alone, Ruby Sparks appeared to be a typical manic pixie dream girl movie. In actuality it turned out to be a meta-view about why the ideal of the manic pixie dream girl is both unrealistic and undesirable compared to just having a normal relationship with a normal girl. In that way I loved it. Zoe Kazan played the near anti-manic pixie to perfection – she also wrote the movie – and Paul Dano played the sad sack selfish guy who only really wants to be in a relationship that serves him very well. Despite it selling out a little in the end I’d still recommend this movie to just about anybody.
To me Being Flynn is what a person who doesn’t like indie movies assumes all indie movies are about. A load of heavy-handed scenes that drive a contrived plot that shoehorns in a cause, homelessness, and has a big name actor trying to do some deep work to get Oscar buzz, Robert De Niro. I say all this being fully aware this movie was based on a memoir. Time and pacing are big issues here. Not only are there several flashbacks that are jarring, but we get no sense of how long certain problems have been going on for certain characters. What feels like a few days or weeks ends up being months or years. De Niro and Dano being solid actors are what make this movie watchable.
And the Winner Is: Ruby Sparks – and I believe there was a scene at the end in each that had Dano reading from the books he had finally published.
Part of the reason I chose this as a category was because I wanted to give Adam Sandler his due and say that Hotel Transylvania is actually a pretty good movie. While it didn’t break new ground or do anything masterful, it was a fun movie that kids can enjoy and parents can watch with them and get some chuckles. We are so ready to crap all over everything Sandler does that he deserves to get a shout out when he makes something of quality because some people just avoid him completely now. Now just because I am telling you to watch this team up of Sandler and Andy Samberg, don’t think I am saying you should give That’s My Boy a shot. In that case, you were right about assuming it was awful.
ParaNorman was one of the surprise hits of the year, and one of the real contenders to win Best Animated picture at the Oscars. Funny and dark, it treated kids like adults and made a horror movie they could potentially get a few scares from – depending on their age – but not be scarred for life. It has plenty of homages to classic horror films, has a nice commentary in regards to bullying, and Casey Affleck’s character has a line at the end that I know studios would have been wary about having in a kid’s movie a few years ago. It’s a small but positive step towards… something. I don’t want to spoil it, but I was delighted to hear him say it. Despite dragging a bit towards the end, it still ended up being in the running for my favorite animated movie of the year.
And the Winner Is: ParaNorman – and I can’t stress enough how much you should NOT watch That’s My Boy.
White People Problems
I’ve heard people say that The Queen of Versailles is a brilliant documentary because it humanized a very rich family, the Siegels of Florida, who have completely lost touch with what life is like for the majority of people. It begins by being a documentary about how they are building a giant replica mansion of Versailles, and turns into a family’s struggle with trying to figure out what it’s like not to have a seemingly endless flow of money after the mortgage crisis cripples their time-share business. While there were moments when I couldn’t help but feel for them because they were clueless about certain things and their family life was obviously hitting a maximum stress level, it never lasted too long. I know too much about David Siegel from things outside the documentary that made me dislike the guy enough where I was often rolling my eyes at all his “troubles.”
Not to be outdone, Judd Apatow’s This is 40 is about how a family who is basically rich is having their own financial/family trouble. Paul Rudd plays a complainer whose biggest vice is eating cupcakes and not gaining weight, Maude Apatow plays a teenager who is mad about her parents not letting her watch LOST, and Leslie Mann plays a shrill nag of a woman who gets justified for being awful because “she’s the fighter.” Rudd and Mann’s problems aren’t without cause, though, as their dads are played by John Lithgow, who is withholding, and Albert Brooks, who is a mooch. This family’s financial troubles are bad enough where they might have to sell their very large house, but not bad enough where they won’t order caterers for a basic birthday party, and the lowest bill Leslie Mann has in her purse is a hundred. It’s overlong, obnoxious, and the funniest parts are very random moments of improv.
And the Winner Is: The Queen of Versailles – because at least director Lauren Greenfield was willing to edit some things out of her movie.
That’s all for part 3. I’ll have one last post of battles from the year of 2012 coming very soon. Try to contain your excitement.